Academia

Prof. Tattletale

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Part two in the grown-ups who should know better whining about bullying series:

A professor is suing because her students were sort of mean to her when she offered them the golden gift of "problematizing" technology and life sciences with, for example, "ecofeminist" critiques.

Priya Venkatesan taught English at Dartmouth College. She maintains that some of her students were so unreceptive of "French narrative theory" that it amounted to a hostile working environment. She is also readying lawsuits against her superiors, who she says papered over the harassment, as well as a confessional exposĂ©, which she promises will "name names."…

Ms. Venkatesan lectured in freshman composition, intended to introduce undergraduates to the rigors of expository argument. "My students were very bully-ish, very aggressive, and very disrespectful," she told Tyler Brace of the Dartmouth Review.

And the best quote from her:

"They'd argue with your ideas." This caused "subversiveness."

Via Julian Sanchez, who is at least marginally more receptive to French narrative theory

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  1. [Mumble, mumble]…Kitchen…heat…[mumble, mumble]

  2. Isn’t there a scene in The Class of 1984 where high-school teacher Roddy McDowall pulls a pistol on one of his disruptive students?

  3. Sugarfree, anything amusing at Feministing on this?

  4. Academic freedom is for professors, not for students. I hope she wins.

  5. She should be deafened by the howls of laughter ringing in her ears.

    And then be actually bullied so that she can learn the difference.

  6. Maybe one of the students asked her if she could help him straighten out his Longfellow.

  7. I’m sure Dartmouth has a code of conduct to cover this. Why not handle the conflict internally?

  8. Maybe one of the students asked her if she could help him straighten out his Longfellow.

    BWAHAHAHAHA! (Sounds like an oldie, but it cracked me up anyway.)

  9. The people trustees of Sutton Dartmouth need to elect hire a rep professor who isn’t such a wimp.
    Maybe a man wouldn’t be so easily intimidated.

  10. Isn’t there a scene in The Class of 1984 where high-school teacher Roddy McDowall pulls a pistol on one of his disruptive students?

    You’re thinking of 187. A much better movie.

    Ok, maybe not, but your description reminded me of 187.

  11. Ms. Venkatesan informed her pupils that their behavior was “fascist demagoguery.”

    I guess that’s the difference between the Ivy League and state schools. If we offered up subversive opinions or sophomoric insights we were called “ignorant bastards.”

  12. dbcooper,

    It might be a little stupid even for them to defend. I’ll keep an eye out.

    They are on their “rape culture” hobbyhorse today. (Our culture enables rape, rape is barely even a crime anymore, yadda, yadda…)

  13. Oh boy, a confessional expose that will name names of Dartmouth undergrads and administration officials who are unreceptive to French narrative theory! Move over, Christopher Hitchens, you and your takedown of Mother Theresa are but pikers compared to Priya Venkatesan and the salacious tell-all to come. I only hope I can get a copy on Amazon before the first printing sells out.

  14. I don’t have time to follow up on this, but I saw something that made it sound like she dropped the suit. Rats.

  15. After reading the whole article, it looks like she was teaching bullshit that even college freshmen can spot, and she was called on it. Good for the kids.

  16. Ms. Venkatesan informed her pupils that their behavior was “fascist demagoguery.”

    She also informed the football players in class that violent ground acquisition games such as football are in fact a crypto-fascist metaphor for nuclear war.

  17. “Scientific facts do not correspond to a natural reality but conform to a social construct.” …

    After a winter of discontent, the snapping point came while Ms. Venkatesan was lecturing on “ecofeminism,” which holds, in part, that scientific advancements benefit the patriarchy but leave women out. One student took issue, and reasonably so – actually, empirically so. But “these weren’t thoughtful statements,” Ms. Venkatesan protests. “They were irrational.” The class thought otherwise. Following what she calls the student’s “diatribe,” several of his classmates applauded.

    You would think concerned feminists would be knocking down her door wielding torches and pitchforks.

  18. I liked the part in her interview with the Dartmouth Review where she explained that people referring to the movie “Gattaca” were mocking her, because “Gattaca” has two ts, which stands for tenure track, which she is not. (Quoted in my post on this, linked in my name).

    Sanity is a mere social construct.

  19. I’m sure Dartmouth has a code of conduct to cover this. Why not handle the conflict internally?

    Looks like she’s at Northwestern now. This story from the Dartmouth Independent has all kinds of fun details:

    http://www.dartmouthindependent.com/archives/2008/05/post-9.html

    Including her reporting two colleagues for having an affair that she felt was being used to “make (her) feel belittled.”

  20. My wife works in higher education and her theory is that this woman got a better offer from Northwestern and wanted out of her contract. Technically she is not suing her students. She is suing Dartmouth for hostile work environment because the college failed to stop the students from harassing her. I really wonder if she filed the suit just to get out of her contract.

    What is sad about this is that someone could actually make a career writing about how Scientific facts do not correspond to a natural reality but conform to a social construct. I think about this woman and the woman at Yale who allegedly induced or faked inducing miscarriages as an art project and wonder about the lives modern academia is wasting. Both of these women must have some intelligence and be capable of doing something productive. At some point in their lives they must have been fresh faced and enthusiastic towards learning and accomplishment. Both of them went to prestigious institutes of higher learning and ended up wasting what could have been productive lives on drivel.

  21. From the WSJ article:

    Ms. Venkatesan’s scholarly specialty is “science studies,” which, as she wrote in a journal article last year, “teaches that scientific knowledge has suspect access to truth.” She continues: “Scientific facts do not correspond to a natural reality but conform to a social construct.”

    And to think that the students in question are going into debt up to their eyeballs for the privilege of being exposed to such brilliance.

    And we taxpayers are guaranteeing said loans. That just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

    Ms. Venkatesan should count herself lucky if she doesn’t get tagged with the defendants’ attorneys’ fees.

  22. YOUNG LISTER: But I’m not into dosh, I hate money, I loathe
    possessions, It’s just so… crypto-fascist.
    LISTER: Will you stop saying everything’s crypto-fascist?
    You make me sound like I was a complete git!

  23. I am accusing some of you (whom shall go unmentioned in this email)

    You are being specifically accused of, but not limited to, harassment.

    Ken — Good god! Are those errors in her original emails?

  24. Mike Laursen,

    Man, she’s got the crazy eyes in that link.

    Lede graf for those at mean workplaces:

    “One female student was a nose-blower,” says Priya Venkatesan, who, until just a few weeks ago, was a professor in Dartmouth’s writing department. A 1990 graduate of the College, Venkatesan spent the better part of her twenties earning a Masters in Genetics and a PhD in Literature. But those were different days. Now, Venkatesan finds her thoughts occupied by that student who “incessantly disrupted class with her nose-blowing.” Or the one who interrupted her lecture on bioethics with “a real evil look that made me feel very uncomfortable.” Or the one who loudly declared that Lyotard was “cheesy.”

  25. it’s sad… some people are not cut out to work with others, and especially not to teach a class full of young people.

  26. Without one of those deft WSJ pencil portraits of Ms. Venkatesan, this WSJ article means nothing to me.

  27. Ken,

    While it’s still insane, the “Gattaca” issue isn’t quite that far-fetched. In the linked interview she said:

    One time Tom Cormen was sitting in the class, and she asked me, how many T’s are in Gattaca. This was the kind of question she was asking, “how many T’s are in Gattaca?,” and I was about to answer her and Tom Cormen pre-empted me, “two t’s.” I’ll leave you to interpret it.

  28. Lol. Gonna name names, huh? She’s gonna end up sleeping with fishes going up against the Dartmouth mafia.

  29. Which has better access to the truth: Bullshitting or science? No fair using empirical evidence to bolster your claim, oppressors.

    This professor is great. I hope she ends up joining the Urkobold staff. She’s a trolling natural.

  30. I think maybe you could put together an all-star team of crazies in one university department. You could have this women, the women from Yale with the art project, Ward Churchhill, Bill Ayers and an entire all star team of nuts in one department. You could then film it and make it into a reality TV show on Bravo or PBS.

  31. I was part of a similar rebellion in a class titled “Violent Political Change” which really should have been titled “US Atrocities against Peace-Loving Latin American Communists”. That was the first place where I heard the Cuban infant mortality rate chestnut.

    I did learn some about the immorality of US foreign policy, but I also learned some about leftist compartmentalism.

  32. “This professor is great. I hope she ends up joining the Urkobold staff. She’s a trolling natural.”

    I can just see the great Juanita Venkatesan debates.

  33. I really wonder if she filed the suit just to get out of her contract.

    Nobody ever needs to sue an employer to get out of their contract. You can just walk, and there’s nothing the employer can do about it.

    The one exception is if you have a non-compete, and even those are a bitch for the boss-man boss-person-of-no-known-gender to enforce. I can’t believe she had a non-compete.

  34. “The final line of the e-mail, which is the last thing I have heard from her, seems to encapsulate her entire story in a nutshell: there might be a point in there somewhere, but she isn’t doing any favors to anyone trying to figure out what it is. Here it is:

    You have helped my case tremendously. Now let’s hope the Attorney General doesn’t come after Dartmouth, but lest we forget, they are appointed by Bush, so you may have an ally in corruption. The sorry state of our world:-( Cheers, Priya”

    From that Dartmouth Independent article linked above. This woman needs to be on Meds.

  35. BWAHAHAHAHA! (Sounds like an oldie, but it cracked me up anyway.)

    I see no one has picked up on the source of my comments yet. Why do I bother?

  36. holy shit…. i think i know this person, actually. she might be the same person who stayed with my family for a little while back in the 90’s..

  37. “Scientific facts do not correspond to a natural reality but conform to a social construct.”

    In her next class, I suggest she stick her finger in the nearest wall socket to demonstrate that electricity is merely a “social construct”.

  38. It’s always a good time to repost the Postmodern Essay Generator:

    http://elsewhere.org/pomo

    …and the (suspiciously similar) Postmodern Thesis Generator:

    http://www.gingko.ch/cdrom/jwrandom/postmodernism/index.html

  39. Nobody ever needs to sue an employer to get out of their contract. You can just walk, and there’s nothing the employer can do about it.

    Not necessarily true. Liquidated damages provisions have repeatedly been upheld in teaching contracts. They can’t stop her from leaving, but they could conceivably sue the hell out of her, or possibly sue Northwestern for tortious interference with a contract.

  40. What is sad about this is that someone could actually make a career writing about how Scientific facts do not correspond to a natural reality but conform to a social construct.

    So that would make her a hard left global warming denier? I’m so confused.

  41. Or wait, she’s a hard left intelligent designer… or something.

  42. I tried to get a teacher canned in middle school, and was part of a class that successfully whacked one in high school (although I wasn’t an active participant in that revolt.)

    Fortunately, all of my profs in college were competent… and to think, Dartmouth was a place I considered. (Unless the class was required, I have limited sympathy for the students – five minutes with the course catalogue and a quick spin through the department website should have been enough to brand it with a flaming radioactive ‘stay clear’ sign.)

  43. Episiarch–

    Your deeds are noted. Hope you got your Wadsworth.

  44. “Your deeds are noted. Hope you got your Wadsworth.”

    how much is that worth?

  45. Maybe Peachy… but if it was after 10 am its going to get people to pick it just to fit their schedule.

    Or was I the only guy in college who picked classes on the basis of not starting before 10 am?

  46. Episiarch, is Oingo Boingo playing a house party somewhere?

  47. Whatever else is true, she is an utterly incompetent teacher of first-year composition, and not just because of her own inability to put a coherent sentence together. In my administrative days, I would have not rehired any first-year writing instructor who considered what she was providing as sufficient “feedback” to help them improve their writing.

    My guess is that one huge source of frustration in that classroom was that they signed up for a class on writing and got NO help in improving their skills. Add to that a course with readings utterly inappropriate for first-years (aside from their more general value), and you have a recipe for precisely the disaster that took place. Yeah, the kids misbehaved but the woman is utterly incompetent if not crazy.

  48. Bah……reading comments when I should be posting them……………

  49. Or was I the only guy in college who picked classes on the basis of not starting before 10 am?

    At Hopkins classes were M-T-W or Th-F. One semester I managed to get all my classes on Th-F, giving me a 5-day weekend. Groovy.

  50. She also informed the football players in class that violent ground acquisition games such as football are in fact a crypto-fascist metaphor for nuclear war.

    Coming soon- the College of Education proudly announces the extensive curriculum for Master of Arts in Stating the Fucking Obvious.

  51. Yeah, I can’t see any adjunct being stuck in a contract and unable to accept a tenure-track position. Normally, the problem facing adjuncts is that they don’t have contracts.

    When I was an adjunct, I told my chair that I had gotten a tenure-track offer and wouldn’t be able to teach in the fall, and his only response was to congratulate me. There was never any discussion of “But how will we find somebody to teach that course in the fall?”

  52. As a scientist, I have no idea what in the hell “problematizing” means. Are you creating problems that did not previously exist?

    I can’t even find the word in the dictionary. Will some humanities person take mercy on my soul and provide a definition of this term?

    I apologize in advance for being evil.

  53. I suggest she stick her finger in the nearest wall socket

    That’s your response? A metaphor for coitus? Please. “Nearest” because all the “sockets” are just waiting and available for use? Dial down on the phallocentrism, neanderthal.

    (Can I get a job at Dartmouth now? I hear there’s an opening position spot vacancy.)

  54. “They’d argue with your ideas.” This caused “subversiveness.”

    The chickens come home to roost!

  55. “They’d argue with your ideas.” This caused “subversiveness.”

    This can be a real problem in indoctrination camps.

  56. Maurkov,

    That’s Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, you, you speciesist.

  57. hke, Wikipedia says:

    To propose problems.

    To problematize a term, writing, opinion, ideology, identity, or person is to consider the concrete or existential elements of those involved as challenges (problems) that invite the people involved to transform those situations.

    Problematization is a critical and pedagogical dialogue or process and may be considered demythicisation. Rather than taking the common knowledge (myth) of a situation for granted, problematization poses that knowledge as a problem, allowing new viewpoints, consciousness, reflection, hope, and action to emerge.

    What may make problematization different from other forms of criticism is its target, the context and details, rather than the pro or con of an argument. More importantly, this criticism does not take place within the original context or argument, but draws back from it, re-evaluates it, leading to action which changes the situation. Rather than accepting the situation, one emerges from it, abandoning a focalised viewpoint.

  58. In a previous thread, I used the term “Disenlightenment” to describe the current intellectual tenure of the West, though I confess I did so only to make up the word “antidisenlightenmentarianism” and to use it in a sentence. Now I really mean it.

  59. I see pretty much zilch connection to Part One. As described, this is so over-the-top ridiculous that I wonder what this has to do with anything other than one either neurotic or disengenuous individual.

  60. I went to a fairly conservative southern school instead of going to Dartmouth, but every english department in the country probably has 1 or 2 lit-crit toadies who, through reading too-much Helene Cixous et al, end up totally deficient in any form of reasoned debate.

    basically, they yammer at you, you yammer something nonsensical back, using as many academic terms as possible, making no real assertion, but raising ‘problematic questions’ as much as possible (hey! even claim YOU cant be making sense because ‘sense’ is a communal construct), and wrap it off with some name dropping of Lacan and Derrida and maybe even Dr Zeuss, and you’re cruising to an A.

    I quit the english department-general for a writing-focused program because of the need to take at least 3 of these courses for the other program.

    I’d hoped this shit in particular (french psychoanalytical/deconstructionist/feminist lit-crit) had died by now. Or for god’s sake, put it in a voluntary seminar. But forcing this stuff on *freshmen* who probably need more work on reading skills in general…? I’m proud of those kids for at least trying to get their (parent’s) money’s worth out of the school

  61. Steven Horwitz | May 7, 2008, 5:05pm | #

    Damn, now that im reading posts, all my sentiments have already been expressed.

    Dude above made same point about the utility of this particular prof in teaching freshman

  62. I throw my thunderbolt,
    I throw it far,
    with my blunderholt,
    it hits a star.

    – Dr. Zeuss

  63. this story should be linked to =

    http://www.dartmouthindependent.com/archives/2008/05/post-9.html

    provides much richer background on her M.O.

    This wasnt the first ‘harassment’ psychosis

    chick sounds ripe for a school-shooting spree. Her paranoia-cum-intellectualism is indicative of some latent schizo potential/instincts.

    And I say that sounding oh-so-pomo

  64. Parents have a right to be angry at bullying, physical assault is uncivilized behavior and no member of a free society should stand for it.

    If someone bullied my kid I would turn him over to the police, if that failed, try as hard I could to have to school expel him. On top of that, all children should learn self defense techniques to protect themselves on the spot.

  65. Come to think of it that is one of the greatest advantages of private school. I remember one day a kid pulled a knife and was expelled the same day, no appeal, no nonsense. Public schools are unresponsive and often keep dangerous kids around. Yet another reason I’m a libertarian on education…

  66. Wait, I want to hear what Ayn_Randian, our resident yokelist, has to say on the matter. Because this sounds like a confrontation between an Ivy League prof and some Yokels, masquerading as Dartmouth students.

  67. I saw something that made it sound like she dropped the suit.

    Woo-woo!

  68. synesthesiast.

    Big deal.

  69. hke,

    I always thought that it was a fancy term for “critique” but this is what wikipedia. states on the subject.

  70. Gilmore,

    The irony being the deconstruction, etc. is apparently far more popular in U.S. intellectual circles than it is in France/Europe.

  71. scape | May 7, 2008, 5:55pm | #
    hke, Wikipedia says:

    To propose problems…

    The problem I always have with looking up post modernist terms is that after I read a definition I feel like I know less about it. It seems to me that post modern literature and philosophy types manage to define things in a way that is information destroying.

    I once spent six hours or so browsing around the web trying to get any sense of what the word “deconstruction” actually meant…

    I came away with the strong impression that this Derrida fellow managed to produce a whole body of work without actually saying anything.

    I haven’t ventured back into the world of post modernism since. Maybe that makes me a coward.

  72. Brian Terrel,

    Well, FWIW Derrida did state the term is beyond definition. I don’t think he ever repudiated that position prior to his death.

  73. “They’d argue with your ideas.” This caused “subversiveness.”

    They just aren’t making proles like they used to.

  74. Upon hearing her charge of subversiveness, one can only hope her class shouted “Libert?!”

  75. Before we can even attempt to discover an assessment of Priya Venkatesan’s actions we must first address the biases, experiences, differences and formal attributes that may lay dormant and/or be occurring dynamically concerning our external culture, media and consciousness as well as the internal nature of our multifaceted projections on tangential subjects (some that are not even known to our apparent selves) that we as a multi-dimensional community may not be aware are predetermining the predictably superficial discourse of the ever-changing scenario before us.

  76. “Before we can even attempt to discover an assessment of Priya Venkatesan’s actions we must first address the biases, experiences, differences and formal attributes that may lay dormant and/or be occurring dynamically concerning our external culture, media and consciousness as well as the internal nature of our multifaceted projections on tangential subjects (some that are not even known to our apparent selves) that we as a multi-dimensional community may not be aware are predetermining the predictably superficial discourse of the ever-changing scenario before us.”

    Can’t argue with that 🙂

  77. I have always been under the impression that subversive is a good thing.

  78. Maybe one of the students asked her if she could help him straighten out his Longfellow.

    lol, or someone should ask her if she likes Kipling!

  79. so, any whale tail pics of this ho circulating?

  80. Somewhere I read that her contract expired by its own terms at Dartmouth – so no apparent need to file suit to get out of her contract. She only threatened to file suit after she was already employed at Northwestern. My big question is: why was she hired at Northwestern? It might be time to reconsider my daughter’s decision to attend Northwestern in the fall.

  81. Lord, I’m thrilled to death when my students say anything in class at all. A little passion and disagreement would be nice.

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